Year in review 2016: Books

I thought I would not get a drop of reading done this year and for several years but- me not read? It’s impossible as it turns out.

In the past, I tried twice to use Overdrive and check out e-books from the library but I couldn’t set-up it properly – the set-up wasn’t foolproof. But after NPY’s cousin said she was using it, I knew I had to hack it and whatever the fix was, the app is much more functional now. Four of the first five books I finished this year were from the library and one of them was the audiobook. I come from a time before all these developments and so it kind of floored me that I could sign out a book from the library while I was away on vacation!

One day, when I was in Chapters, I photographed the covers of seven books, as I do. But these days, if it is not available as e-book or audiobook at the library, I’m not reading it! Hamilton: The Revolution was an exception and that was a delightful experience.

Total books “read”: 28
– Percentage that were audiobooks: (11/27)
– Percentage that were “Asian-American”: (7/28)
– Percentage non-fiction: (13/28)
– Percentage written by celebrities: (4/28)

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Karen Alpert’s I Heart My Little A-Holes: A bunch of holy-crap moments no one ever told you about parenting (October 2013) – On some recommended books list, I saw Alpert’s I Want My Epidural Back listed and straightaway I looked it up at the library. They did not have it (yet) but I could immediately sign out the e-copy of her first book instead. It was a fun and quick read that voices most of the thoughts that have gone through my head (for the stages of development I have experienced so far).

Elizabeth L. Cline’s Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion (June 2012) – I heard about this book on Tamara Taggart’s Instagram and probably elsewhere and thought I could use a good wake-up call. It was an approachable look at what goes in to making our clothes, the factors and pressures that drive down the cost of our disposable fashions where Forever 21 and H&M were particularly targeted. She concludes in a reasonable tone urging us all to be more conscientious but understanding that we all might have valid reasons to not all go 100% local and handmade.

Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett and Amanda Pressner’s The Lost Girls: Three Friends. Four Continents. One Unconventional Detour Around the World (April 2010) – Yes, this falls under non-fiction although it does seems fantastical to me. I was drawn to this book at Pearson Airport because of its colours and travel is of course of interest to me. Is it a dream of mine to actually backpack and endure the bathrooms of third-world countries? Although there were three authors and three narrators, I never figured one out from the other and so sometimes it seemed more like a work of fiction and thus with untold additional anecdotes thrown in for dramatic or comedic effect. It was effective in convincing me that I badly want to go to Brazil, SE Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam), Bali and Australia/New Zealand. Oh, to be in my late twenties again without the pressure to keep at my career and have at least one friend “crazy” enough to realize this with me. As it usually does, the ashram experience and teachings of Buddhism impressed upon me, reminding me to make time for that… or not.

Deepak Chopra’s What Are You Hungry For? (Nov 2013) – This book has been on my purview for a while but I knew I didn’t want to read it. Audiobook it is! I know the message so well as do so many people, so I tuned out because I sometimes feel like I actually do know the message better than the next person. I just don’t internalize the message, which is quite obvious to see.

Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It: Life Journeys Inspired by the Bestselling Memoir (Mar 2016) – I saw this at Chapters and of course the familiar cover makes you do a double take, “But- what- that’s not a new book-” After hearing from so many readers about how inspiring her book was, Gilbert compiled the essays of 50-odd readers (most are writers or artists) who share a common thread of learning from reading Eat Pray Love that they are in a position to change their lives. Each essay was a short and quick read and illustrated how many different scenarios one could be in and find inspiration. The way the readers referred to the lessons of the book, you’d think it was written by a guru. I forgot how well-written it is and am slightly inspired to read it again. But not soon. Too much else new to read.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic (Sept 2015) – “Another” Elizabeth Gilbert volume! Okay, Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It was not written by her and it was purely a coincidence. I was aware of and even thought I wanted to read this when it was published last year but fiction seemed more alluring. But as an audiobook read by the author herself, it was good. She anthropomorphizes creativity and inspiration and it seems intuitive and she’s fairly humble about her success.

Christopher Andersen’s Game of Crowns: Elizabeth, Camilla, Kate, and the Throne (April 2016) – saw it in Chapters – shortly after saw some fiction that is heavily influenced by Will and Kate’s college romance but I’d rather read the real thing (and bulk up my non-fiction list, haha) I add the thumbnail and do a brain dump in a draft of this blurb as soon as I start reading a book before I forget where I first heard of the book anyhow and I thought this was a non-fiction piece but it isn’t! I hesitated about continuing further (after ploughing about 3% in) because fan-fiction isn’t my thing and weirder still, it’s fan-fiction about real people. But it is so intriguing so as a literary “treat” to myself, I continued on! Afterall, I “never” read about the Royals.

Mary Norris’ Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen (Apr 2015) – I finally finished reading this and only got back to it because I didn’t have anything else to read. It’s not for everyone, possibly not even for me. I appreciate good grammar, but a whole book of essays about it – even if very accessible – is much.

Rachel Jonat’s Do Less: A Minimalist Guide to a Simple, Organized, and Happy Life (May 2014) – I became aware of Rachel Jonat and her book when I saw she would be a guest speaker at The Juice Truck’s Mama Mondays series. The premise that being minimalist in possessions and your obligations is the gateway to saving money and having a better life is intriguing yet while I read Do Less, it felt breezy and I was annoyed that the suggestion to “move closer to your work” kept cropping up when it is impossible for me. It was nice to attend the Mama Mondays session and “put a face to the name” and she mentioned how Do Less was available at Urban Outfitters for a time and it made a world of sense – the tone is fitting for the demographic of their shoppers. I know, I can elaborate on her principles on my own. She also wrote The Minimalist Mom which I will evaluate first before diving in.

Amy Schumer’s The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo (Aug 2016) – So, I don’t watch Amy Schumer’s show or the video clips that get a lot of press. Nothing against Schumer – I just know that I won’t get around to watching those hundreds (and growing) articles and whatnot that I save in Facebook and Feedly. But I will surely tune in to her narration of her book of personal stories. The forward is great, alerting us not to think too deeply about the book as a memoir or self-help. And I noted that the first stories were very relatable, like “An Open Letter to My Vagina”, “My Only One Night Stand”, which – I might be narrowly read – seem ground-breaking in openness and honesty. Those weren’t the only good stories, by far, but I stopped mentally taking notes. I also thought it was an excellent wake-up call for girls caught up in trying to be something they are not and thus forgetting to be real. I would have wanted to hear these stories when I was younger and I wonder what is the youngest age this book is appropriate for.

Linda Thompson’s A Little Thing Called Life: On Loving Elvis Presley, Bruce Jenner, and Songs in Between (Aug 2016) – saw it on a featured shelf at Chapters – so gossipy! – “Elvis” which is jarring – skipped the poems/song lyrics – guessing the title is the name of a song because it is otherwise a annoying platitude (Life is everything to an individual) – she’s claims to be a writer but her prose is so… simple – sounds like she’s trying to please everyone, apologetic, “I tried my best”, so artsy, and dumb but maybe anyone could be dazzled by the big stars she was with – felt bad for David and then Bruce (for not being absent father to B&B) – was 80% of the way through when Hamilton came through

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter’s Hamilton: The Revolution (Apr 2016) – see my post about it.

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Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies (Sept 2015) – I first heard of this novel when it was mentioned several times in separate episodes of Inside the New York Times Book Review podcast and particularly took notice after the interview with Lauren Groff and Obama’s nod! I consumed this as an audiobook and that is a good format for me to ensure I get through it in a timely manner. It also meant that there were definitely times I wanted to multitask while minding E. No harm, just he was confused and just a little upset at times I had this garbly background noise going on!

Philippa Gregory’s The Taming of the Queen (Aug 2015) – While Gregory has been publishing for over a decade, this is the first of her novels I’ve “read” which in actuality I listened to. I came across this novel while at Chapters and read the back cover. That Kateryn Parr was characterized as being strong-minded and the first woman in England to publish in England, I was intrigued enough to get it from the library as an audiobook. I can see now how Gregory is so popular seamlessly weaving historical details into a nearly fantastic biographical tale.

Kiera Cass’ The Selection (April 2012) – I saw this title at the bookstore and – look at that dress – how could you not get drawn in? Judging from the cover, it is 100% guaranteed to be a girly novel but would it also be speculative fiction like so much YA is? Yes. It is a good candidate for audiobook listening and when I was done, it is a small sort of cliff-hanger and I wanted the next one lined up.

Lori Nelson Spielman’s The Life List (July 2013) – Where did I see this first?! I can’t remember which list but aren’t the covers gorgeous?! And I love the idea of following your dream even if the premise was preposterous and Brett fulfills the goals in such an order that her mother’s letters to her seem like a conversation. I was so intrigued by her love interests: boyfriend Andrew, friendly lawyer Brad, mysterious psychologist at the end of the phone line Garrett, Burberry Man will he reveal himself, and the perfect boyfriend Herbert Moyer. And there was unexpected sadness. I enjoyed it from the start but you could tell I really enjoyed it when my battery life was just 1% and I was cursing it and wanted to continue reading.

Kiera Cass’ The Elite (April 2013) – “Oh, Maxon!” “Oh, Aspen!” I can’t believe I continue to list to this (swill). It’s a bit hard for me to differentiate between the writing and the audiobook narrator but I do believe the writing is bad and overly dramatic. The world building is beyond lazy and plainly annoying for someone who enjoys speculative fiction and dystopian worlds. And I started to get the sense that one of the Elite, Elise, is being stereotype rather blatantly – more lazy writing. It is clear as day that America will win the selection so there I go reserving the final volume.

Kiera Cass’ The One (May 2014) – It’s funny how I am. Once I start, I have to finish. And it’s audiobooks and I don’t have any other audiobooks in queue for now. But so long as this one comes to a conclusion, that’s it. Finito. I don’t even care enough to read the synopsis for the following two Selection novels where, true to Bachelor form, it is the Bachelorette’s turn. I started to get mad in this final volume as all the stereotypes continued that Cass thought intelligent and “diverse” to use in the Asian character, Elise. (Here is a sample: she is petite and slender; she wore something that sounded like a traditional Chinese/Japanese/Korean gown for Hallowe’en when our traditional gowns are not costumes; she is reserved and aloof and doesn’t have hot-blooded emotions for Maxon; in her culture, she is expected to enter an arranged marriage; she is the “perfectionist”; she is kept in the selection because of her connections and not because Maxon would like her for her; her parents are the only ones who bow when they meet the royal family; she spouts about honor and disappointing her family, etc.) I thought I might have been alone in thinking this but I’m not.

Lemony Snicket’s The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events #1) (Aug 1999) – This is definitely not the sort of novel I normally read (hence, audiobook) and I don’t even know how it came onto my purview anyhow. I feel like I heard about it on Inside the New York Times Book Review as it is celebrating 20 years in publication or something, but it was published in 1999. Suppose they were celebrating another novel and I read the wrong one? In any case, it is not a complete waste of time for me to “investigate” into this series should I want to revisit it when E is a reader.

Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder (June 2011) – This wasn’t a novel I would have come upon by myself and read but in Big Magic, Gilbert described how she had an inspiration to write a story set in the Amazonian jungle but she had to abandon it for a period, how she believes ideas look for a home and since she paid it no heed, it traveled to Ann Patchett who managed to follow through with it. I didn’t even know what Patchett’s style is like but it was a truly enjoyable romp and fantastical story.

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Ian Hamilton’s The Wild Beasts of Wuhan (June 2013) – I didn’t have this instalment of the Eva Lee series and skipped ahead to the next one but May Ling reappeared and references to what happened previously made me feel a little like I had missed something. Yet I kept reading several more instalments and got caught up before finally reading this pivotal one. Wow, May Ling did do a big, bad thing. Thanks to reading this instalment which took Ava from Wuhan in Hubei to Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Dublin, London and New York City, I know a lot more about the industry of art forgery and been introduced to Steinum sweaters.

Ian Hamilton’s The Princeling of Nanjing (January 2016) – Although I felt like I was arriving at this book late (in March, when it was published in January!), I can’t believe I have to wait another nine months for the next instalment. Ava’s new circle of colleagues and friends allows Hamilton to completely change things up. In the first six or so novels, Ava collected on bad debts and met a host of shady and violent characters, mostly male. Over the last couple of instalments, her circle changed as did her occupation and we find Ava surrounded by a bevy of strong female characters – May Ling and Amanda, her business partners, Gillian, Chi-Tze and Suki, business associates, and Auntie Grace, Xu’s almost-mother figure housekeeper. For the first time in my recollection, Ava is worried about her mother’s gambling habit. It fascinates me a little the thought that Hamilton decided that Ava’s company’s current major investment is in a fashion line, an intimidating and strange and glitzy world. This novel could not have been released at a better time with the case at the center involving major corruption amongst Chinese politicians and right as I was finishing it, the Panama Papers were leaked!

Janice Y.K. Lee’s The Expatriates (January 2016) – did I like Lee’s first novel, The Piano Teacher? Yes, I did. Lee re-visits the expat world but in a modern day setting, following three Americans: Margaret who is dealing with the disappearance of her toddler son a year before, Mercy who can only seem to make bad decisions and was minding the children when Margaret’s son disappeared, and Hilary who can’t decide whether to adopt and finds herself suddenly estranged from her husband. Somehow, all of the stories have to dovetail together and this is all set up to be a great, quick “beach read” but the characters have depth and resonance and I was quite satisfied with the result.

Marie Kondo’s Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up (January 2016) – A follow-up to Kondo’s 2014 best-seller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I decided to read only this volume because it would have illustrations which – it would turn out – weren’t that interesting. I think I got the gist of the philosophy and I don’t know what I missed not reading the first book. Just like some people grumble about the whole “finding joy”, I found myself a little appalled by the extent of the spartan household strictly following the guidelines would result in. I think I cannot let go of the image of Kondo hammering with a frying pan because she got rid of her hammer that didn’t bring her joy. But I came away with a few tips even if I won’t be doing the whole program any time soon.

Kevin Kwan’s China Rich Girlfriend (June 2015) I wasn’t going to read this novel. I still didn’t really read it as I listened to it as an audiobook. It’s a fun novel but it’s audiobook fodder since I already read (listened to) the first one. On a Friday, I wanted something to listen to when I was walking home so I went to the library’s website to browse their audiobook selection and who is surprised that this niche novel was immediately available. One of my favourite parts was Carina’s plan (including a reading list) on how to recreate Kitty’s image into a posh individual.

Amulya Malladi’s Serving Crazy with Curry (Oct 2004) After finding that VPL didn’t carry the e-book version of Malladi’s 2016 release A House for Happy Mothers, and catching it on sale thanks to BookBub, I bought the Kindle version. And when I loaded my new book in my Kindle app, I then realized that the last Kindle book I bought happened to also be a Malladi volume which I never read. Funny that. I’m nearly positive I found Serving Crazy with Curry for free and downloaded because of that and now I had every intention to read this earlier work before her 2016 work. I thought it was a short story and that’s why it was free, but it was a full-blown novel. Oof. I have weird commitment issues – like I want to finish what I begin and not start too many books at once. While it seemed to me like I hadn’t used my Kindle app in ages – actually, I read David Klinkenberg’s On the Origin of Religion on it in 2015 – it turns out I bought Serving Crazy with Curry some time in early- to mid-2015. Which meant I had no idea what I was in for. It was a delightful book that exposes the issues of sisters Devi and Shoba, their mother Saroj and her mother Vasu after Devi’s attempted suicide. I think it’s a good novel if I could see my own situation in each of the characters: Devi’s the social one who is trying to make sense of what she has accomplished in life, Shoba is the overachiever but in a “perfect” but go-nowhere marriage, Saroj feels underappreciated by her whole family and Vasu is the ultimate rebel for her time but has sacrificed her relationship with her daughter for it.

Amulya Malladi’s A House for Happy Mothers: A Novel (June 2016) I managed to squeak finishing this novel on the last day of the year, yay! Especially since I was so excited to read this and even bought a copy. Malladi’s writing has changed over the years. Still compelling and somehow easier to read. I might have skipped over a novel about surrogacy before E came along but perhaps I would not have. It’s a fascinating topic and the novel’s length makes you consider the human behind a surrogate mother. There was tension as you wonder if Asha will form such a bond with the baby that she doesn’t give it up, and how would Priya react and would her perfect relationship with Madhu survive such a blow? Also, will Asha’s life be turned around or will her husband turn around and squander the windfall her work garnered?

On this day..